Many NFL fans and experts are picking the lowest-seeded teams in each conference to meet in Super Bowl 50 next month.
That tells all you need to know about how unpredictable the 2016 NFL playoffs are likely to be.
This postseason is shaping up to be one of the toughest to handicap in recent memory. The Panthers, Cardinals and Seahawks all appear to be viable Super Bowl contenders in the NFC. In the AFC, the No. 2 seed Patriots and No. 6 seed Steelers are more highly rated in most people's minds than are the top-seeded Broncos.
So, now seems like a pretty safe time to make some wild, bold predictions as he head into Wild Card weekend, doesn't it?
Here are five postseason prognostications that are just crazy enough to possibly happen.
1. The Cardinals will host the Redskins next weekend.
After they enjoy the first-round bye they earned by virtue of being the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed, the Cardinals will host the third-seeded Vikings, fourth-seeded Redskins or fifth-seeded Packers in the divisional round.
The Seahawks will make short work of the Vikes in their Wild Card matchup, while the Packers will lose to the Redskins, who have won four in a row overall and six of their last seven at home. In that scenario, the 9-7 Redskins, whom the Cardinals haven’t faced this season, would head to the desert on Saturday, Jan. 16.
2. The Seahawks won’t make it past the divisional round.
If and when the Seahawks win at Minnesota, they’ll have to travel to Carolina to face the 15-1 and top-seeded Panthers, whom they lost to at home early in the regular season. Carolina is undefeated at home this year and has this season's likely league MVP in quarterback Cam Newton.
The two-time-defending NFC champs will be an extremely tough out, but the Panthers are one of the few NFL teams with enough talent and swagger to overcome the confident, experienced Seahawks in the postseason. Look for Cam & Co. to accomplish that unenviable task.
3. Peyton Manning’s next playoff game will be his last.
Veteran QB Peyton Manning is likely to start in the playoffs for the AFC's top-seeded Denver Broncos, even though backup and ASU alum Brock Osweiler has posted better numbers in his seven starts in relief of the struggling, injured former five-time MVP.
The Broncos’ divisional round opponent will probably be the Chiefs or Steelers, both of whom won their last meetings against Denver. If it’s the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will pick apart the Broncos’ secondary. If it’s the Chiefs, Manning will be under constant duress from Kansas City’s defense.
Either way, Denver’s next game will be the 18-year veteran’s last hurrah in the postseason – and it could be his final NFL start altogether.
4. The Bengals-Steelers winner will go to the Super Bowl.
The Bengals would likely have been the AFC’s top seed if QB Andy Dalton had remained healthy all season – but Cincy has proven formidable even with backup A.J. McCarron under center. The Bengals still have a potent running game, one of the league’s top tight ends in Tyler Eifert, and a top-tier rushing defense -- and there's a chance that Dalton will return to action at some point during the playoffs.
And then, you have the seasoned Steelers, whom no AFC team wants to face. With Roethlisberger and the NFL’s best wide receiver in Brown, Pittsburgh is capable of scoring 40 points in any given game.
This matchup is the most intriguing of the Wild Card round – and whoever survives will ultimately head to Santa Clara.
5. Super Bowl 50 will be a rematch of Super Bowl XLIII.
When the Steelers snuck into the playoffs in the final week of the regular season, it kept open the possibility of Madden 16’s Super Bowl prophecy coming true.
The Cardinals and Steelers met in the Super Bowl seven years ago, with Pittsburgh snaring a last-minute victory over Kurt Warner and Arizona. This year, the Cards and Steelers are the NFL's most explosive offensive units, and they both feature an attractive combination of playoff experience and up-and-coming talent.
The Steelers are the only team the Cardinals faced this season that they haven’t beaten. Look for Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and the Cards to get a chance to make things right on Feb. 7.